Sonny Landreth, Blacktop Run, Provogue/Mascot
Eric Clapton once said that Sonny Landreth is one of the most advanced guitarists in the world and one of the most under-appreciated, which is about right. He has developed a pretty unique style of playing, which he terms “Slydeco” which mixes Louisiana Zydeco and a kind of liquid slide. It only takes you to hear a few notes before you recognize that it’s Sonny Landreth. That’s something you only say of a handful of guitarists. He has collaborated with a lot of other top guitarists over the years, including Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Eric Johnson, Derek Trucks, and has featured a number of times at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival. He’s a guitarist you’d travel far to hear play.
Following his previous Grammy nominated album from 2017, Recorded Live In Lafayette (2017) and his Blues Music Awards for Best Guitarist and Best Blues Album for 2015’s Bound by the Blues, Landreth has released his sixteenth album, Blacktop Run. It’s exhilarating stuff, and a line from the title track seems to sum up Landreth’s energy with the album: “A new day is dawning and I have never felt so alive.”
Ten tracks, quite varied, all showcasing Landreth’s incredible guitar chops. The slide playing is jaw-droppingly good, deadly accurate, sometimes amazingly quick and always with that characteristic Landreth tone. There are four instrumental tracks, which give fulsome opportunity to appreciate the musicianship and tight interplay of Landreth and his collaborators who include percussionist Brian Bignac, David Ranson’s on bass and the multi-talented keyboard player and songwriter, Steve Conn. Groovy Goddess transports you back to the psychedelic ‘70s with a jazzy, rocky, almost prog-rock feel, and you could imagine this song being extended live to about 10 minutes, rather than the 3.47 you get on the record, and the crowd loving it. Improvisation is the name of the game here: “Honestly, I think the purest form of music is improvised,” says Landreth. “When it flows, it’s exhilarating. It just seems to come out of nowhere and connect your heart and soul to your fingertips.” Quite.
It’s not all fiery jazz-blues-rock, though. Blacktop Run, Don’t Ask Me, Many Worlds, and Something Grand all take the tempo and the temperature down a notch. The opener and title track gets us off to a great start, with Sonny’s resonator driving us down the road, with just a hint of an Indian vibe. Don’t Ask Me has a delightful Cajun feel, while Many Worlds slows the whole thing with a laidback, melodic, ethereal atmosphere. Completing the album, Something Grand is just beautiful and unusually has no guitar solo. The expansive music meets the wonder of the lyrics: “Grace yields the gravity…let a tender mercy become something grand. Sweet forgiveness like perfume in the air…”
Mid-album, Wilds of Wonder gives Landreth the opportunity to remind us of the shrinking ice floes and raging forest fires that are the result of humanity’s despoiling of the planet.
This is a richly textured album from the hugely talented Landreth and his band, which is impressive the first time you hear but repays repeated listens in spades.